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The Great Initiative

Following our Migration: Thinking Again and Thinking Critically series, read about Omar’s experience migrating to the UK, as well as his current work at Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre where he is dedicated and passionate about helping support and empower Arabic speaking women and families.

Through this brief article, I wish to tell you about my story in this country and how I came to be part of what I call “the great initiative”.

My name is Omar, I am Moroccan and I arrived in Britain at the age of 18 to start university. This was a bit more than four years ago. Studying international politics in London was an exciting experience for me as I was able to meet people coming from all around the world. I really enjoyed living in such an international environment. I constantly learnt from my flatmates and classmates who all came from different cultures. I was not surrounded by many Moroccans; so in a way the reputation of my country depended on me; almost like an ambassador. I remember I had always been interested in knowing what others thought of my country or how they pictured it in their minds.

There is no doubt that home for me is in Casablanca, Morocco. However, I now see London as a second home. I miss England when in Morocco and I miss Morocco when in England. I wanted to do more for my country whilst in London. Apart from going to a Moroccan restaurant in London, it seemed to me that there was nothing else helping me convey the image I had of my country and strengthen its relationship with the UK. Indeed, most universities, at least at that time, did not have any Moroccan society. The idea of starting one was definitely something I had in mind. However, what I really wanted was to engage with people who are not necessarily part of the academic world.

Al-Hasaniya, Moroccan Women’s Centre clearly marked a turning-point in my university years. The word “al hasaniya” means in Arabic “to do good”. In fact, the centre provides assistance and advice to all Arabic speaking women and their families; whether they may be Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any other religion. The majority of the women who work or come to Al-Hasaniya are Moroccan. The centre is located near Golborne Road in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You just have to walk around to know that you are at the heart of the Moroccan community in London. I’ll never forget how I approached Al-Hasaniya. It was during my final year at university and I got to know about the centre through an online article that described very positively their work for women in the Moroccan community. The only issue was that I am a man; which may make some clients feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I believe that my knowledge and passion for Morocco helped me to join Al-Hasaniya as a volunteer.

Volunteering as a young Moroccan male in the Moroccan Women’s Centre has certainly been eye-opening. Every time I go I see those hard-working women dealing with all sorts of different cases: domestic violence, mental health, inability to speak English, organisation of activities… Al-Hasaniya is a first port of call for these women often lost, destitute and lonely. My contribution to the centre may have been little but I did feel I was helping my country in a way and I saw women’s support and empowerment every time I went there. The impression that I get is that every night before going to bed the women who work at Al-Hasaniya know they have helped at least one woman or one family. I always wonder where these women in need would seek help if the centre didn’t exist. As I was completing my MSc in Social Policy and Development at the LSE, I was able to see how it really is to engage with a community. Besides, this experience has given an interesting insight into the Moroccan diaspora in Britain.

I am very grateful to Mrs. Souad Talsi MBE, founder of the centre, for giving a chance within “her great initiative”: an unforgettable experience.

By Omar Kader

Think Global’s lunchtime event on how do we raise the quality of discourse about migration, and encourage people to think again, and think more critically, about the issue, took place last week.  A report of the event will follow. 

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